The Infectious Joy Of Mwenso & The Shakes

By Stephen Kallao and Kimberly Junod for NPR Music


There are charismatic people, and then there’s Michael Mwenso. The leader of Mwenso & the Shakes is full of energy, charm and most importantly, joy. That joy is ever-present when he’s telling stories about growing up in Ghana and Nigeria and spending four years trying to impress James Brown. You’ll also find that joy on his debut album, Emergence [The Process of Coming Into Being], which blends jazz, R&B and spoken word in a live album that feels like a Broadway show. These songs are anthemic — an explosion of ideas and sounds wrapped around familiar instrumentation.

Michael will tell the remarkable story of moving to England as a kid, finding music after his mom was deported and how he was taken under the wing of James Brown as a teen. First though, we get started with a live performance from the stage of World Cafe Live. Hear that and more in the audio player above, and watch a special bonus video of Mwenso & The Shake’s performance of “Resolute” on this page.